As you may already know, language acquisition is crucial in children’s development and it supports many other aspects like cognitive, social and literacy development. It supports a child’s ability to communicate, express and understand feelings, solve problems, think and learn.
But what is the best approach to properly teach languages toddlers? Let’s find it out together!

How do children learn?

Let’s start by saying that every child is different and we can’t expect every one of them to learn at the same pace or teaching them using the same approach, but there are some common aspects.
First of all, in order to learn, children need to play; By exploring and experimenting, in fact, they learn about life without even realizing it! And while there are many brilliant techniques to teach them almost anything by exploiting their cuiosity, we have to consider that the most valuable gift you can give them is you time: time to play, time to have fun, time to being involved and surprised.

Do I need a lesson plan in order to teach children?

As you can imagine, the typical lesson plan has nothing to do with teaching toddlers.
So how does the learning process work?
Observation: First of all, we watch the child playing and running their everyday activities.
In this phase we just observe, listen and take note in order to understand the child, their interests, abilities, and existing knowledge.
Assessment : Second of all, we analyse the notes we took during the observation in order to discover the potential of the child we observed. Children’s rates of development are so varied in the early childhood, that’s why it doesn’t make sense to highlight what the child can’t do. What does make sense, however, is to point out, based on evidence, what a child can do and follow his/her skills and interests.
Planning : This phase is linked to observations and assessments. After observing the child and analysing our observations, we should plan the next steps in their learning and development by using the most suitable activity for the child and the language aim.

How can you further help a child develop language learning?

  • A relaxed learning environment
    Children need to feel safe, happy and included in order to learn, so the first thing you can do is to set a peaceful yet stimulating environment. Use songs, dances, games and crafts to interact with them, making room for bilateral communication and encouraging mutual interaction. Songs, stories and routines represents a great tool to practice repetition, which is not only crucial to memorize new parts of the language, but it also creates a sense of comfort given by something familiar, which is then led to a feeling of security and structure.
  • Always talk to them, even before they can interact with you
    Parents and caregivers are the architects of their baby’s brain and should interact with them by speaking, telling them stoires or singing even before they can actually respond in any way: a child who is not speaking yet, is actively listening and collecting sounds and words their parents are using.

*The Hart and Risely study shows differences in how parents from different backgrounds interacted with their children, stating that children of professional parents heard approximately 11 million words in a year, while children from poor welfare families heard only 3 million, stating that much of what you see in children born into poverty is analogous to children born deaf. *

  • Variety of activities
    > Adult-led activity: the adult is in control of the activity wich has previously planned, staying with the child while the activity takes place. This type of activity give the child structure and guidance and helps to include specific subjects in order to be aware of what the child learns.
    > Adult-initiated activity or play: the adult sets up the resources or the activity and guides the experience, this helps children to use their creativity
    > Child-led play: This type of play, often referred to as open-ended play, gives the child complete freedom to choose the resources and explore the surrounding. It teaches children to take the ownership of their learning
  • Play!
    Play is crucial, but what aspects do we need to consider for a play-based learning?
    According to, a game should be:
    1 > Pleasurable: play is an enjoyable and pleasurable activity, it sometimes includes frustrations, challenges and fears; however enjoyment is a key feature
    2 > Symbolic: play is often pretend, it has a ‘what if?’ quality
    3 > Active: play requires action, either physical, verbal or mental engagement with materials, people, ideas or the environment
    4 > Voluntary: play is freely chosen. However, players can also be invited or prompted to play
    5 > Process oriented: play is a means unto itself and players may not have an end or goal in sight
    6 > Self motivating: play is considered its own reward to the player (Shipley, 2008)
  • Positive feedback
    Last but not least, in order to promote their comunicative attempts, praise the good work with positive encouragements instead of using negative remarks.

source: “Language teaching in early childhood”
British Council

Would you like to explore more about playtime for babies?
Check this out: “Learning through play from birth to three” by , a national nonprofit promoting the healthy development of babies and toddlers.

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